The Problem With Susan Rice

By Carl M. Cannon - November 23, 2012

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Yet it was the “unfounded and preposterous” version that the administration went public with, with Susan Rice as the point person. When questioned about this discrepancy in the waning weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign, the president and his aides went on the offensive, accusing Republicans of seeking to politicize a tragedy. As for the most troubling allegation of all -- that doomed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had feared for his safety and requested additional security, but was turned down -- the administration has simply refused comment.

When asked precisely about that by a voter during the second presidential debate, Obama ignored the question, pivoting instead into an attack on Mitt Romney. This is the tactic he used at the Nov. 14 press conference when asked about Susan Rice, too, but with a new twist. He questioned the motives of McCain and Graham, implying that there was something else about Rice they didn’t like.

After lauding her in flowery terms, Obama noted that “at the request of the White House” Rice had appeared on those Sunday talk shows to relay talking points that had been provided her.

“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” he said. “But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

There are several puzzling aspects to this reaction. For starters, Obama said the phrase “U.N. ambassador” as though it were odd anyone would criticize her over administration foreign policy. It was as if he were talking about the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service instead of one of the top architects of Obama administration foreign policy.

Also, if Rice really knew nothing about Benghazi, why was she out there talking about it? The tip-off to Republicans is that she didn’t only read from the script provided her about the violence in Libya, she also repeated the president’s campaign slogans. “The American people fully understand that this is an administration led by a president who said when he ran for office that he would take the fight to al-Qaeda,” she said. “We have decimated al-Qaeda.”

But if al-Qaeda is actually able to murder American diplomats and sack U.S. consulates, the claim to have decimated the terrorist network is open to question. So Susan Rice has become a lightning rod for Republicans who think that Obama and his advisers stalled an accounting on Benghazi until after the election -- and did so by stonewalling and dissembling.

Obama certainly understands this point. But instead of engaging it, he lashed out at Rice’s critics. “When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target,” Obama said, “then they’ve got a problem with me.”

In the real world, portraying the smart, tough, and strong-willed Susan Rice as an “easy” target would be humorous -- except for what the president was implying: If Rice’s critics were not going after her on the merits, why were they doing so?

This was the dog whistle part, and it was both heard and heeded by Obama’s supporters in the Democratic Party and the media.

“It is a shame that anytime anything goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat recently installed as the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. “There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by Sen. McCain and others.”

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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